Today Marvel is releasing the Thor movie on dvd and Blu-ray and so I thought I'd post a few notes about Jack Kirby and Thor.
As this post reminds us, although "in 2011 so far (as of September 2011), creations of Jack Kirby have accounted for $766 million dollars at the box-office, and that’s just domestic grosses, not including dvd/blu-ray sales, international sales or merchandising," Jack Kirby remains unknown to the general public. Jack Kirby, were he alive, would see no income from the sales of the Thor discs today, nor will his family. Marvel has systematically fought to have Kirby shut-out of the credit and proceeds of his creations and that is why we are urging the boycott, to right this historic wrong. Please do not buy any Marvel product until this issue is resolved.
Because Kirby's leading role in the creation of Marvel is such a secret, I am cheered whenever I see a review that even mentions Jack Kirby as the creator or co-creator of Thor, since there is so much misinformation out there, most of it the handiwork of Stan Lee, Marvel spokesman and Kirby's editor and co-writer during the 1960s. Kudos to the critic Gabriel Powers for pointing out Stan's credit hogging on the dvd special feature interview in this review and its comments section.
In fact, the historical record is pretty clear on Thor. As with many Marvel projects from the 60s, there seems to have been some sort of discussion between Kirby and Lee about the character, who first appeared in a six-page origin story in the Journey Into Mystery anthology (issue #83, August 1962). Stan's brother Larry Lieber is credited as scriptwriter on the first issue and for the initial run of the stories, with Kirby continuing on the art chores, as well as plotting, etc.
It's interesting to read Lieber's deposition from the most recent lawsuit in regards to the creation of Thor, as a counterpoint to Stan Lee's "I created Thor and his universe" line:
Q: Did you ever work on the comic Thor?
LARRY LIEBER: Yes.
Q: What was your involvement?
LARRY LIEBER: I got the synopsis, the plot from Stan, and I wrote the first script of Thor. That was it.
Q: And when you say “the script,” that’s what we were talking about before that told panel by panel?
LARRY LIEBER: Panel by panel and description of it, yes.
Q: Did you see any artwork on Thor before you wrote the script?
LARRY LIEBER: I don’t recall seeing any. I don’t know.
Q: Do you know who, after you turned in the script, do you know who the artist was that drew Thor?
LARRY LIEBER: I believe it was Jack Kirby.
Q: Did you have any conversations or any interactions with Jack Kirby about the Thor book?
LARRY LIEBER: No, not that I recall.
Q: Did you come up with any of the names in Thor?
LARRY LIEBER: Yes.
Q: What did you come up with?
LARRY LIEBER: The civilian name of Don Blake I made up. And I also came up with his hammer. I made that, which people know about. My Uru hammer, I created that.
Q: And where did you get the name Uru hammer?
LARRY LIEBER: I just made it up, as far as I know. I might have read it. I used to — Stan liked the way I made up names, civilian names, and I used to, from my years of doing these, what do you call it, these fantasy books, monster books, and I used to look at the back of dictionary, Miriam Webster had biographical names and geographical, so I would look in towns and if I liked the town, I might put it. And it was kind of fun and he liked what I did.
Now, I don’t know if I found “Uru” someplace or I just made it up or whatever. I know I made it short because I felt that Thor might be around a while and I was always worrying about the letterer or somebody. I was worrying about somebody else’s feeling, and I figured, well, if I make it U-R-U, there’s not that much to letter. And since nobody knows the name of it, I’ll make it a short name. So that’s why I did that.
And Don Blake I just thought sounded like a doctor and, you know, to fit the personality.
And then of course, there are Kirby's own words, from this famous interview in the Comics Journal:
KIRBY: I came in [to the Marvel offices] and they were moving out the furniture, they were taking desks out — and I needed the work! I had a family and a house and all of a sudden Marvel is coming apart. Stan Lee is sitting on a chair crying. He didn’t know what to do, he’s sitting in a chair crying —he was just still out of his adolescence. I told him to stop crying. I says. “Go in to Martin and tell him to stop moving the furniture out, and I’ll see that the books make money.” And I came up with a raft of new books and all these books began to make money. Somehow they had faith in me. I knew 1 could do it, but I had to come up with fresh characters that nobody had seen before. I came up with The Fantastic Four. I came up with Thor. Whatever it took to sell a book I came up with. Stan Lee has never been editorial minded. It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day. Stan Lee is essentially an office worker, OK? I’m essentially something else: I’m a storyteller.
GROTH: Who came up with the name “Fantastic Four”?
KIRBY: I did. All right? I came up with all those names. I came up with Thor because I’ve always been a history buff. I know all about Thor and Balder and Mjolnir, the hammer. Nobody ever bothered with that stuff except me. I loved it in high school and I loved it in my pre-high school days. It was the thing that kept my mind off the general poverty in the area. When I went to school that’s what kept me in school — it wasn’t mathematics and it wasn’t geography; it was history.
GROTH: Stan says he conceptualized virtually everything in The Fantastic Four — that he came up with all the characters. And then he said that he wrote a detailed synopsis for Jack to follow.
ROZ KIRBY: I’ve never seen anything.
KIRBY: I’ve never seen it, and of course I would say that’s an outright lie.
Regardless of the initial conception, it seems clear that Kirby deserves the credit for the visual design of the Thor universe and much of the stories of Thor's adventures in the comics. The Destroyer character in the movie is totally a Kirby creation, for instance, as are the Warriors Three sidekicks.
In other news, Rand Hoppe of the Kirby Museum has also joined the boycott and has some thoughts on Kirby's 94th birthday.
Until next time,